Finding a home in Asheville’s distinctive neighborhoods

NEW LOOK: Craggy Park, a development of 45 homes in West Asheville, exemplifies some of the architectural design and planning trends that have caught on in recent years. Designed by Wilson Architects, the new neighborhood features dense, urban-style development alongside shared green space. Photo courtesy of Mosaic Realty

“When I get a call from someone who’s moving to Asheville and wants to buy a home, I urge them to carve out a long weekend, like Thursday through Monday, and plan to drive around a lot,” says Stephanie Cochran, a broker with Mosaic Realty. “Asheville is a bit unique as far as house hunting goes. Many people come in and have an idea of what kind of house they want: an older home like a Victorian or Arts and Crafts, a bungalow, a ranch, midcentury modern, a fixer-upper, a new green build. In many towns that pinpoints the area where you will look. But in Asheville, so many neighborhoods have a mix of many if not all of those. So let’s drive around and look at neighborhoods, see what feels right in that sense, and then begin to narrow it down.”

Cochran views the diversity of Asheville’s neighborhoods through multiple lenses: as a real estate agent, a native and someone who’s renovated over a dozen homes in the area.

On the other hand, Jack Thomson, executive director of the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County, considers the city’s residential architecture in terms of a historical timeline of growth and development.

Montford, Asheville’s earliest planned neighborhood, was incorporated in 1893; the Montford Area Historic District, the city’s largest both in size and in number of homes and other structures, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

“By and large, Montford developed during a period when the American Victorian style of architecture was prevalent,” says Thomson. “Montford has some very iconic Victorians and Queen Anne Victorians, such as the Wright Inn, built as a residence in 1899 and designed by Knoxville architect George Barber, who became nationally known for his plan books.” These highly successful catalogs, containing plans for houses and other structures, led to the construction of Barber-designed buildings all over the country and even overseas.

ALL IN THE FAMILY: The Riffles — from left, James, Jennah, Sheri and Chris —work together to run the 1899 Wright Inn in Montford, a classic example of the Queen Anne Victorian style. Photo by Joe Pellegrino

“Montford transitioned from the Victorian period to Arts and Crafts. It’s fair to say that Asheville has its own unique Arts and Crafts style, which varies from other areas of the country.” It includes “heavy detailing in the Shingle style and faux thatched-roof detail, meant to look like an English-style thatched roof, but we obviously don’t use thatch. When you think Montford, it’s Victorian, Queen Anne, and Arts and Crafts.”

The Arts and Crafts movement — inspired by nature, the use of local materials and exceptional craftsmanship — flourished in Asheville. The National Arts and Crafts Conference, founded by Asheville resident Bruce Johnson, has been held annually at the Grove Park Inn (now the Omni Grove Park Inn) since 1988. “It’s an ideal location, as Asheville has a notable inventory of Arts and Crafts housing stock,” notes Thomson. The Preservation Society teams up with the conference to present the Arts and Crafts Home Tour, which tries to highlight a different neighborhood each year. In 2019, it showcased homes in Norwood Park, which were mostly built between 1912 and the 1930s.

Grove Park, another desirable historic neighborhood slightly northeast of Montford, was created by Edwin Wiley Grove in the early 1900s as a planned suburban residential development featuring curvilinear streets, parks and natural landscaping. The single-family homes are in a range of styles, including Georgian Revival, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival and bungalows. A patent medicine magnate turned developer, Grove began spending time in Asheville for his health in the late 1890s, moved here around 1910 and wound up having a big impact on his adopted city. Among his many subsequent local development projects were the Grove Park Inn, erected on the west slope of Sunset Mountain in 1912-13, and the Grove Arcade downtown (which remained uncompleted at his death in 1927).

Time spurs diversity

Often, a neighborhood’s architectural diversity is determined by both the period when it was created and the span of years during which it developed. Shorter time frames typically result in more purity of style.

A notable exception is Albemarle Park, a small planned community whose fewer than 30 homes display a wide range of styles, despite being built in a relatively short amount of time. “It was developed in a very expressive way,” says Thomson, “so you’ll have a Dutch Colonial house with a gambrel roof, a large Rustic Revival log-style house, a stucco-finish house that feels like you’re in Normandy, a Swiss chalet-type house and a Georgian Revival. The architectural vocabulary is very diverse and tied more to diversity of expression during a condensed timeline: 1898 at its earliest, and most construction done by 1925. Albemarle Park also has a unique landscape plan: Rather than razing the land and plowing it over to expedite construction, the houses were intentionally placed within the landscape and appear like little ornaments on a tree.”

Asheville’s 1920s boom era also spurred the creation of Lakeview Park, which sits to the north around Beaver Lake. Its longer development timeline gave the neighborhood a broad spectrum of styles, from century-old European revivals to modern homes built in the 1960s.

Around the same time the Grove Park Inn was being built, Kenilworth began taking shape to the south. The eclectic community featured a mix of Tudor Revival and Mediterranean Revival homes as well as Arts and Crafts bungalows.

Across the river and into the trees

In its own world — some would say an alternate universe — is West Asheville.

Like Montford and Kenilworth, “West Asheville was once its own town,” notes Thomson. “It was developed in a much denser fashion, with smaller housing stock closer together. With a few exceptions, most of it was for the blue-collar marketplace. Until maybe the last decade and a half, it has been more affordable for housing.”

Cochran, who’s lived in West Asheville four different times, agrees. “When I first bought in West Asheville in 2002, it was a side of town where few were buying, so I could afford it. It’s kind of a patchwork quilt of styles; the older homes are mainly smaller cottages and bungalows.

People’s taste varies, however, and for those who don’t respond to West Asheville’s charms, there are other options.

“When a client says to me, ‘The last thing I want to see is a 1920s bungalow!’ I take them east,” continues Cochran. “Haw Creek and Riceville have more of the homes built in the ’50s, ’60s and even ’70s. You’ve got the ranch homes — not the bigger ones like you see north, but smaller and more affordable. Ranches are enjoying a big comeback, and people are doing amazing things with them.”

Troy Winterrowd and Kelly Erin-Spinney, the founders of Modern Asheville Real Estate, know their ranch homes, as well as contemporary, modernist and midcentury. “I think ranch is an easy architecture for people to understand,” says Winterrowd. “It’s a box you can make whatever you want out of. You can find them everywhere, even rurally. There’s a little loop in the hills: Town Mountain Road to North Asheville, around Beaver Lake and Lakeview Park. You have to look at what neighborhoods were built at that time; there are ranch neighborhoods like Malvern Hills, Kimberly Woods, Woodland Hills. There’s a neighborhood on Town Mountain Road called Sunset Mountain that drew many doctors and lawyers building midcentury homes in the ’60s and ’70s that are quite stunning.”

“It’s a little pocket of joy,” says Erin-Spinney with a laugh. “It’s Mountain Modern, whether original, remodels or new builds. In the past 10 years, most of our clientele has tended to be over 40, often empty nesters. Many of them have already done the big backyard with the play set where the dog and kids can run around. Now they’re looking for something more attuned to the lifestyle they’ve decided to live.”

That often includes a view of some kind, she adds, whether it’s looking down from a mountain, up at one or straight into an urban forest. Accordingly, modern architectural styles frequently feature large expanses of glass. It might mean being within walking distance of downtown or sited on some acreage.

Many of the team’s clients are artists, musicians and other creatives who may be newcomers to Asheville. “If someone wants a modern home and comes to us,” says Winterrowd, “we can help them find the architecturally unique house on the market; you can remodel or you can buy a lot and build.”

Modern love

House hunters with a passion for modern who want to create their own unique, contemporary space may turn to Rusafova-Markulis Architects. The wife-and-husband team — Maria Rusafova and Jakub Markulis — designed the S Residence, featured on this year’s self-guided Modern Asheville Architecture Tour, for a Texas couple who were relocating to Asheville. “They wanted something relatively small by American standards,” says Rusafova. “They bought a lot in an older subdivision in town and wanted something filled with light, lots of windows, connected to the outdoors, modest and simple.”

Interest in modern architecture is on the rise in Asheville, she notes. “As more people move here from larger cities in California and Texas, they have sought us out if they can’t find the existing house they want. There is a strong modernist movement in the Durham area that is bringing that interest here.”

Calder and Aaron Wilson moved to Asheville 15 years ago and started their two-person firm, Wilson Architects, five years later. “Asheville is a fun place to do architecture. People are open to unique styles, and the mountains offer great opportunities for views and building types,” says Calder.

When they were starting out, “We saw more requests for Arts and Crafts,” adds Aaron. “We’re getting more modernist projects these days.”

One of their recent designs is a contemporary in Chicken Hill, an older neighborhood that’s seeing new life. “The new build has amazing views, and it’s close to the River Arts District and that scene,” says Calder. “We also did a historical renovation of an older home there, built in the ’20s. It’s kind of a residential hot spot now.”

Thomson of the Preservation Society agrees with that assessment, though he has mixed feelings about it. “The early housing stock in that area was built for the workers in the industries that were there. Chicken Hill is really the last echo of the earliest stock, and much of it has been lost.” On the plus side, he continues, “I like what I’ve seen happening there in expression of architectural detail in a contemporary way.”

Green urban density

Wilson Architects is also part of the team that’s transforming a deeply wooded 8.5-acre parcel in West Asheville into a pocket community of 45 green-built homes. Craggy Park emphasizes walkability, significant green space, tree preservation and a community garden. Mosaic Realty founder Mike Figura is one of the developers. “We started acquiring land in 2015, started construction and selling homes in 2017,” he explains. “West Asheville is conducive to this type of development for several reasons. There has been more land there than in other areas of town, and its zoning makes it a little easier to do this kind of project.”

In addition, he points out, “The specific type of buyer who’s interested in a green community fits the West Asheville profile. It’s not so much a demographic as a psychographic, defined as LOHAS: lifestyles of health and sustainability.”

The Wilsons, meanwhile, say that part of the challenge in designing the home plans was creating privacy within the neighborhood’s dense layout and avoiding a cookie-cutter feel. “The lots are compact, but there’s a lot of shared green space,” says Aaron. The idea is to create “the density of an urban neighborhood in a less urban setting.”

“The developers wanted something modern and timeless, contemporary but not trendy,” adds Calder. “You want something new and fresh and to give each house some individuality.”

Other similar West Asheville communities include Davenport Park, Shelburne Woods and the new Malvern Walk, which Figura says is targeting the same potential market but offers bigger houses.

Make way for the future

Even in West Asheville, however, undeveloped land that’s close to downtown is limited and becoming ever scarcer. So far, though, the trend of tearing down existing homes to make way for new construction hasn’t made major inroads here.

“We are seeing some of it,” says Erin-Spinney of Modern Asheville. “It’s not on the scale of cities like Atlanta and Nashville, but it is happening here and there. If people want a specific location, they may buy a house they can bulldoze and build what they want.”

Thomson expects that to become more common as more people move to Asheville, but he’s not necessarily against it. “It depends on where it is. In many of our neighborhoods, we think it’s appropriate to allow the expressiveness of new design to come forward. I often tell our architects of today that we hope they will design structures that we will be willing to defend as historic preservationists 50 years from now.”

 

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About Kay West
Kay West was a freelance journalist in Nashville for more than 30 years, contributing writer for the Nashville Scene, StyleBlueprint Nashville, Nashville correspondent for People magazine, author of five books and mother of two happily launched grown-up kids. To kick off 2019 she put Tennessee in her rear view mirror, drove into the mountains of WNC, settled in West Asheville and appreciates that writing offers the opportunity to explore and learn her new home. She looks forward to hiking trails, biking greenways, canoeing rivers, sampling local beer and cheering the Asheville Tourists.

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